Christine Webber, a very inspiring woman
Christine has a new book out in January so I thought it was a good time to revisit an interview I did with her a few years ago. About 15 years ago she wrote Get the Happiness Habit and current research has shown that many of her ideas then have a credible clinical evidence base, so she's written an updated version. I'll be reviewing it in the next few weeks.
Christine Webber is a successful author and broadcaster and psychotherapist. Her first book, which was a romantic novel, came out in 1987. Her most recent, and 12th book, Too Young to Get Old, was published in February in 2010. She has been an agony aunt on TV Times and Best and a regular contributor or columnist on a wide variety of publications including Woman, TV Quick, The Scotsman and SAGA. She also guests on TV programmes such as BBC Breakfast and The Wright Stuff.
Jane: Christine, thanks so much for taking time out to share your thoughts with the readers; I’m really looking forward to this interview, our first of 2011! And my first question, what was the very first paid job you ever had? Did you like it?
Chris: My very first paid job was on the skirt counter in Marks and Spencer in Catford, in South London. I loathed it, I’m afraid. But my next job, as a ‘postman’ for the Christmas rush during my first holidays as a student, was great. And the money, with overtime, seemed like a fortune!
That’s a coincidence; my first job was on ‘hats’ in the Army and Navy stores, Bromley South. And I did the Christmas post too – very lucrative! But you began as a singer so presumably the performing gene was quite strong. How long did that last and how did you make the break into television presenting?
I was a musical child. My parents didn’t play instruments, but my mother had a lovely contralto singing voice. I was always writing plays and dancing round the house – though never had dance lessons. I did learn the piano though, and got quite good. And then, aged 18, I went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study singing. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that I was not the next Joan Sutherland. So when I left, I went into musicals and pantomime.
I also did some teaching, and then ventured into repertory theatre – just scratching a living, really. Finally, my big break was becoming an in-vision TV announcer. I was much better at that – which was a relief. Shortly after going to Anglia TV as an announcer, they gave me a job as a news presenter. I stayed there for 12 very happy years.
Have you ever experienced femageism in your professional career? (I.e. where younger women routinely paired with older men and older women exit stage left)
Well, there’s no doubt that older women have a tougher time in TV than older men. I left Anglia when I was 43 and that was partly because I wanted to do other things, but equally because I felt it better to leave while they still wanted me. Other colleagues did get replaced by younger women – and I had seen that happen.
Obviously, many viewers want to look at people who are easy on the eye. But at the same time, I think that it’s the men in suits, rather than the public, who keep searching for the next bright young thing. They also constantly chase advertisers with promises of delivering young audiences. This is crazy. It’s actually mid-life and older people who have more disposable cash, and who reliably watch their favourite programmes, so probably the TV companies should all be trying to attract older viewers. Why these supposedly intelligent ‘high-ups’ haven’t worked this out for themselves beats me!
Hear hear! What prompted you to write Too Young to Get Old? How easy was it to get your first book published?
My first book was a novel and I entered it into a competition run by Cosmopolitan magazine to champion new writers. I didn’t win, but my book did get shortlisted and was then read by someone at Century Hutchinson and was eventually published. This was a huge thrill, I can tell you. I then started writing non-fiction.
I married my second husband, Dr David Delvin, in 1988. He is a sex specialist and I got interested in his work. He’d already published masses of books, including The Book of Love which was an absolute classic and helped generations of couples to have a happier love life. Together, we wrote The Big “O” which did quite well, and then – after I’d trained for four years to get various psychotherapy qualifications – I started writing books on happiness and self-esteem as well as about relationships.
Too Young to Get Old was a completely different venture. I wanted to write something for the sassy women that we female baby boomers are. And I wanted to put together in one book lots of information about all the things we need to know if the next few decades are going to be vibrant, solvent and healthy ones. I found it quite a hard concept to sell to people. But my lovely agent, Rowan Lawton, pitched it to Piatkus, who are a great publisher. And I’ve been very happy with what they did with it. It’s going into a second edition in February.
Who has inspired you in your personal and professional life?
This list is endless. I am constantly inspired – often by something I casually read in a newspaper, or on Twitter, or see on TV. I am very influenced and inspired too by all sorts of books. Major inspirations in my life have come from a couple of my school teachers – who could see the sort of future I might be able to have, and who encouraged me.
I’ve been very influenced by one of Britain’s top marital psychiatrists, Dr Jack Dominian. Inspired too, by several cognitive-behaviour gurus – such as Aaron Beck, the founder of CBT. And my husband has been very inspiring too, in oh so many ways!
What do you think is the biggest ‘hurdle’ for professional women now? (Or maybe you don’t think there are any hurdles?)
Not sure about ‘hurdles’ exactly. But I think the major worry for professional women is whether or not to have children – and if so, at what point. That’s at the heart of what lots of women want to discuss when they come to my practice in Harley Street.
I think another hazard is that few of us really live in the moment, and enjoy it. When we don’t do that, everything becomes such a struggle, because we are constantly striving but never looking around and going: ‘Hey, I’ve come a long way. My life is exciting and challenging. And I am happy in it.’
What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
My husband has given me loads of advice through the years on punctuation. Does that count? It’s certainly been useful.
What piece of advice or knowledge do you wish you had known at age 18?
I wish I’d known that I would find true love eventually, so I could have stopped agonising about it and just had a good time.
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers out there?
I think ‘just do it’ pretty well sums it up. There are hordes of people who believe they have a book in them. And probably lots of them do. The difference between them and those who get published is often simply that the latter group actually put in the time and do the writing. You are not a writer if you just think about writing, but don’t write.
How do manage the work home balance with your busy career? You work often with your partner, Dr David Delvin. Does that make it easier or more difficult to break from work?
I have a good balance between working with David, and working on my own. When we got together, in 1987, we made a vow that neither of us would take a job that involved an overnight stay if the other couldn’t go. I’m sure that some people would find that limiting, but it has worked for us.
At this stage in my life it’s much easier actually to have balance and time to myself than it used to be. I look at women in their 30s who are managing a home, a career, a man, and bringing up children and I just marvel at how they can do all these things. Truth to tell, many of them look exhausted much of the time. And no wonder. I’ve come to believe that lack of balance in people’s lives is a major source of unhappiness and fatigue.
What’s your favourite way to relax?
Some years ago, I bought a very nice piano. Trouble is, I rarely play it. But my resolution for 2011 is to make time, as it’s a wonderful way to de-stress. I also love exercise (and when I was hopeless at games and always the last person to be picked for any team, I’d have been amazed by that!) – especially the ballet class I go to at Pineapple. I watch loads of rugby on the box and adore it. I listen to lots of music. I enjoy the cinema – especially the lovely Duke of York’s here in Brighton where you can sit on sofas and eat cake and drink wine or coffee. I love going to the theatre and to opera and to concerts. In fact, it sounds really as if my life is one big relaxation. I wonder if I ought to fit in some more work!
What has been the best mistake you ever made?
I have made countless mistakes. For a start, I should definitely have saved more money when I had regular work in television. But I try not to dwell on mistakes. Regret is pointless. I am very much a ‘looking forward’ sort of person rather than one who looks back. You just have to say: ‘I made that choice then. It seemed right at the time. No point in beating myself up over it.’ There’s no harm in resolving not to be that stupid again however!
What are you most proud of in your life?
I think I’m probably most proud of having built a happy and mutually loving marriage with David – mostly because I used to think that a happy relationship was something that only other people could expect. I also delight in being a step mum and step granny.
Work of course has always been vital to me, and I am very pleased with some of the jobs I’ve had. Not sure if ‘proud’ is quite the right word for that.
I am often proud of clients when they really work to make their lives happier and more balanced – and when they triumph over the broken hearts that often bring them to me in the first place.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, with anyone from history or the present, where and who would you choose?
Seems to me that for a woman with a moderately good brain, who comes from a very ordinary family, there’s never been a better time than now.
Heaven knows what I would have done if I’d been born before women were allowed to work or have their own money. I think I would have felt very hampered and frustrated. Also, I am hopeless at needlework, which I’m sure was a necessary skill for all females. Probably my best move would have been to try and be some rich man’s mistress. I might have managed that.
Seriously though, I’m sure that to have lived in Vienna any time between about 1780 and 1930 would have been very interesting, though it might not have been great if you were seriously poor. If you think about all the composers who produced a phenomenal body of work in that city – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc – it must have been an amazing period with them all concentrated in the one place. Also, it would have been interesting to be in Vienna when Freud and Jung and others were making huge leaps in psychological medicine. But probably to have entered fully into either a musical life or an academic one, it would have been better to have been born male, rich – and healthy. No penicillin, after all!
You have masses of really helpful information in ‘Too Young’, but what’s your best tip for growing older?
Do as much exercise as you feel you can – and then do a bit more than that! What I learned through researching my book is that exercise is the best way to keep in trim and to keep mobile, and to keep your brain healthy. Most of us have loads of ambitions yet to fulfil, but we’re not going to achieve them if we succumb to immobility, serious physical illness, or dementia. Really, what I learned as I wrote was that we are – to a large extent – the architects of our own old age, and if we want to be healthy and viable we really need to put in a lot of effort.
Christine, thank you so much for this; a brilliant start to the Inspirational Women section of 2011 and I wish you huge success this year. I hear your latest book has been so successful it’s now going into a second edition. Congratulations!